Coronavirus in Ballarat: BHS closes break rooms at hospital, angering staff

Hospital staff angered at sudden closure of break rooms

Break rooms at the Ballarat Base Hospital will be closed during the day from Monday in the latest step to prevent staff infections, but some workers are furious.

In an email sent to staff on Friday evening, Ballarat Health Services stated "communal staff areas are a significant COVID-19 viral transmission risk", and "on this basis, communal staff spaces will be closed for the purposes of meal and team breaks for at least the next 14 days".

"This action is taken as a pandemic response, and whilst very disruptive and inconvenient, is taken in order to minimise the extreme risk such environments present."

The email lists outdoor spaces which will be made available for staff across several precincts, suggests staff "may wish" to take a meal break in their own cars alone, as well as noting the closure will be from 7am to 10pm each day, as night shifts have "significantly less" staff.

Some staff have blasted the lack of communication and consultation from management, saying having an opportunity to take a quick breather on long shifts was important for mental health.

Contacting The Courier anonymously within hours of receiving the update, some feared they would have to leave the hospital itself and walk to their cars to eat during the day, which would require going through the process of removing and putting back on personal protective equipment, or on later evening shifts, go out in Ballarat's cold for a cup of tea.

One worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said break rooms were already unrecognisable from before the pandemic, with chairs moved to opposite ends of rooms, tables removed, and limits placed on the number of people allowed inside.

"It just doesn't make sense, I feel like they only talked to people who have their own office to eat lunch in - no one who's actually affected by this change," they said.

They added they understood the rationale behind the decision, but said it was made without proper consultation, and the announcement on a Friday night meant staff would not be able to have their say before the change was instituted.

Another worker said the change felt "out of touch" with how difficult the job had become, especially as staff were already socially distancing while on breaks.

"This pandemic and the many changes which have come with it (including wearing a compulsory six elements of PPE for eight hours), has brought our department to its knees in terms of new protocols and procedures," they told The Courier.

"Now this. Now we don't even have a space to take a break. We deserve more respect than this."

However, not all staff are against the change - one worker told The Courier they understood why the new break regulation had been brought in.

"In Ballarat, where we haven't had acute health care worker infections yet, we have the opportunity to have zero health care worker infections," they said.

"Whatever they are doing in Melbourne clearly didn't work."

The notice to staff states works are under way to provide suitable seating "where appropriate" in the outdoor areas that are being opened - it's not known if this includes shelter or heating.

"Clearly this action will create difficult challenges that need local resolution, but all of these challenges pale wen compared to the risk of staff to staff transmission, which has been reported as a significant transmission source in some metro services," it states.

The change has not been ordered state-wide by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services - there has been no advice to close communal spaces, and health services are responsible for assessing their own risks and developing their own COVID-19 plan.

Staff should also be social distancing in as many instances as possible.

Ballarat Health Services was emailed repeatedly for comment, and asked about the consultation process and what measures will be put in place for staff to comfortably and safely take a break.

No response was received by deadline.

Remember to always maintain good hand hygiene, wear a mask when in public, and keep a 1.5 metre distance from others at all times.

Right now there are only four reasons to leave your home in Ballarat during stage three restrictions: care and caregiving, local exercise, shopping for necessary items, and for work or study if you are unable to do so from home.

This story Hospital staff angered at sudden closure of break rooms first appeared on The Courier.